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Haunts of High Street: Harpers Ferry

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Photo courtesy of True Treats Facebook

Harpers Ferry is arguably one of the most haunted towns in West Virginia. It’s also (in my opinion) one of the most beautiful and picturesque little towns in the Mountain State.  Walking down its narrow roadways, it’s easy to imagine yourself walking those same streets over 150 years ago.  Not much has changed since Harpers Ferry experienced the 1859 armory raid by abolitionist, John Brown, or since it became a strategic location for both sides during the American Civil War.

But, a lot has changed since Harpers Ferry’s earlier years! 

Robert Harper was the first white man to own land in what is now known as Harpers Ferry, having come to the area in the 1750′s.  After George Washington visited the area in the late 1700′s, he decided that the area would be the perfect place to construct a new federal armory, and the town grew from there.  However, it wasn’t until 1852 that the town was finally incorporated and town officials were elected. After the Civil War devastated area factories, mills, and shut down the federal armory, the population of Harpers Ferry fell, and time seemed to come to a halt.

Today, the quiet little gem, located at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, is the location of a National Historic Park, established in 1944.  As far as national parks go, Harpers Ferry is a tiny one, but I’m convinced that every square inch is packed with ghosts from the town’s bloodied history.

High Street is the main thoroughfare through Harpers Ferry’s historic district.  Many of the buildings located in this section of town pre-date the Civil War, having been built in the 1830′s and 1840′s to serve as housing for armory employees and to serve in various other capacities related to the armory. 

The 3-story red brick building located at 144 High Street was built around 1843 and houses the Village Shop, and also the most awesome candy store in the state:  True Treats Historic Candy

True Treats is owned and operated by Susan Benjamin who opened up the High Street shop in 2010.  The store features a variety of candies for sale, showcasing the history of candy from its earliest days through the early 1900′s. The shop is part store, part museum, as Susan uses academic research to ensure historical accuracy in the selections she offers, as well as with the educational material she puts out relating to the history of candy.  You can tell from her videos on True Treat’s Facebook page that she truly is a knowledgeable individual who absolutely LOVES talking about candy!

But it’s another employee at the shop who has a slightly different passion.  Manager Tara Dockman has earned the nickname of ‘Ghost Lady,’ thanks to her sensitivity to paranormal activity.  Tara claims that True Treats is home to not one, but TWO ghostly residents.  The first ghost who calls True Treats home is a female who wears a white, flowy gown.  This particular ghost is the shyer of the two, and prefers to hang out in the upper levels of the building, away from guests.  However, she has been blamed for throwing candy around and slamming doors customers’ faces.

The second ghost at the location is a male whom the staff call Colby.  Colby also likes to throw candy and slam doors and seems to be a bit more aggressive than our lady in white.  He’s been known to push people, but has calmed down after being reprimanded for the behavior.  The strange thing about Colby, though, is that he never seems to materialize in full form.  Rather, he shows up in…for a lack of a better phrase…pieces.  Witnesses will see a pant leg disappear around a corner, or a man’s shoulder glide past them, but never a full-body apparition. Former employee, Christine, has noted that on one particular night during her employment at True Treats, things got super crazy, with cups spinning and a plaque falling off the wall.  Was it Jacob the Troublemaker, or the Lady in White?  And just who ARE these two phantom inhabitants of this world-renowned sweets shop? Are they connected to the land or to the building?  Or, are they just drawn in by all the old-time treats that fill the lower level of the red brick building on High Street?

True Treats Google Streetview.  That’s Hog Alley on the right! 

Speaking of red brick buildings on High Street…

While researching the ghosts of True Treats, I began perusing some of my books on West Virginia hauntings and ghost stories. In A Ghostly Tour of Harpers Ferry, by Shirley Dougherty (1989), I rediscovered the tale of Jacob.

According to Dougherty, a red brick building on lower High Street, just a couple of stores away from Hog Alley, was used during the Civil War as a Confederate prison.  The prisoners were housed on the third floor, while guards and other staff, including a young prison guard named Jacob, were housed on the lower two floors.

One night, Jacob went out with a lady friend, and asked his fellow guards to cover for him.  However, that same night, there was a surprise inspection. Jacob’s friends tried to cover for him, but they ended up getting in even MORE trouble for doing so.  Needless to say, they weren’t too happy with Jacob and planned on teaching him a lesson.  So, they tied his hands and feet together, stuffed feathers into his mouth and nose, and beat the crap out of him.  However, after they decided he had had enough, the young men were horrified to find Jacob not breathing. They had inadvertently suffocated him to death.

Panicked, the guards quickly constructed a crude wooden coffin and shoved Jacob’s body in it with the intent to bury it out back and claim that Jacob had deserted his post.  But, as the group tried to walk down the stairs carrying the coffin, one of them slipped and lost his grip.  The coffin crashed down the stairs and out the back door, spilling Jacob’s body out right in plain view of the neighbors who had rushed out to see what the noise was all about. Although the group was punished, it seems as if Jacob was still buried in the backyard as planned.

His body and his spirit never left the property where he spent his last moments.  People who lived in the building after the war ended claimed that they could hear the phantom sounds of a struggle and crashing noises going down the stairs.  Objects would be thrown about, locked doors would open by themselves,  and once, a pair of pewter candlesticks were found bent with a man’s fingerprints embedded into the metal.  The letter ‘J’ was also found carved inside a window pane.

I’ve taken a look at maps and the National Register of Historic places application for the area, and I don’t THINK the house where Jacob died is the same that houses True Treats, but I’m not 100% sure.  Could ‘Colby,’ really be ‘Jacob’?  Their behavior does sound similar and both locations are described as being in close proximity to Hog Alley, which is home to its own ghost story! 

Sources and Additional Reading:
Haunted Harpers Ferry, West Virginia: A Modern Witch’s Guide.  MoodyMoons 4-9-2019

True Treats Named No.1 Candy Store in West Virginia.  The Journal article, by Mary Stortstrom 10-07-2015

Ghostly Things are Happening in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. By Deborah Block 10-30-2017

Harpers Ferry Wikipedia

True Treats Website

Harpers Ferry NPS Website

Harpers Ferry Historic District National Register application


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